Since Premier Bob McLeod announced to News/North two weeks that he will not be running again, following announcements by cabinet ministers Alfred Moses, Glen Abernethy and Robert C. McLeod that they will not be seeking re-election, one of the big lingering questions is to what extent the public should be worried about the lack of experience heading into the next term?
Depending on who you ask, both incumbent and newcomer candidates have a different take on the topic.
Many of the newcomer candidates running are women. Following a push this year by a special committee to increase women representation, getting female candidates elected on equal par with men is a big goal, even if it means many politically inexperienced people will be MLAs.
Caroline Cochrane, the only cabinet minister from Yellowknife running again, says both experience and new ideas are needed. As a candidate advocating for equal representation of women in the legislative assembly, as well as one of three of Premier McLeod’s cabinet ministers returning from the last term, she said the loss of political leadership from the 18th Assembly is a concern.
“I have been administrator for over 20 years and I do know whenever you are looking for any kind of change (in governance), you need both,” said the Range Lake MLA incumbent. “You need fresh views and some experience to bring that corporate knowledge to the table.”
When Moses, Beaulieu, R.C. McLeod and Abernethy resigned, she was worried that a lot of experience was lost at a time of great uncertainty about the future of the NWT economy, she said.
“As far as the premier goes, none of us knew and it was very quiet,” she said. “When he announced, that was years and years of corporate knowledge that left the table. So that is a concern.”
But fresh ideas – including those from women are “absolutely” needed as well, she said.
“You have to remember when we have been advocating for women in leadership positions, we were not asking to take all the seats,” she said. “We just wanted to have equal representatives and we are fine with half the seats, if we can get them.”
Others who are aiming to serve again, such as Yellowknife North’s Cory Vanthuyne or get back into the legislature like David Ramsay and Robert Hawkins, say experience is going to be very important in dealing with a stagnating economy, aging diamond mines and an overall uncertainty among residents.
“I think it is fair to say that this is being sensed out there,” said Vanthuyne, when asked if he thought people were worried about the lack of experience going into the next assembly.
“There is the concern that over the expansion of two assemblies that we are now down to two or three people that were part of 17th Assembly.
“If re-elected, that puts weight on people like me. I’m only a one-term (MLA) and that was a massive learning curve. I can predict some pretty big pressure on 11 or 10 other members of the last as newbies.”
Still others, like Patrick Scott, who has not been happy with the ability of MLAs to resolve issues like homelessness, and Yellowknife Centre incumbent Julie Green, say experience can be overrated and new and fresh ideas should be expected after an election.
“Considering the outcome of the last assembly, we need fresh leadership,” Scott said. “And that is the most polite way of putting it.”
He said there are examples of other candidates who are attempting to return to office as well as three cabinet ministers from the last assembly seeking re-election and whether they’re successful will depend on whether voters think experience is important.
“A change of government is often very good … but not having the past experience is not always a bad thing.”
Green said she hasn’t heard the issue come up during door-knocking but pointed out that there was a big turnover of new MLAs from the 17th to the 18th Assembly, too.
Green noted that the legislative assembly has a research department and that the clerk organizes briefings to help MLAs learn the ropes.
“I don’t think people should be too concerned about a big turnover,” she said. “The people who are running are, in most cases, very qualified and when they get in they will have access to staff and resources that will help them to learn their job. I don’t see that as a huge impediment in the legislative assembly. “
“As long as you’re willing to do the work and reading and attend the meetings, you can be brought up pretty quickly,” she added.
Kam Lake candidate Cherish Winsor asked voters to judge those running “on our own merits” during an all-candidates forum hosted by the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
“There are six of us and there is a lot of us and so there is a lot of choice,” she said. “A couple of previous MLAs have experience and there are four of us who are new to the game.
“We all have something to bring and we all have potential and I ask everybody to review us on our own merits and not the previous work we have done over at the assembly.”
She pointed to her experience going to Ottawa as a president of the YWCA and advocating for the North, working with federal ministers and members of parliament and calling for help with Northern housing.
“So I’m not new to this either,” she said. “I can bring that experience forward.”
When asked about her remarks at the forum, Winsor said attendees told her that they are excited about the idea of a big change and new ideas. She said a whole “new rash of MLAs” could mean, as an example, a push for a change in how the premier is elected.
“I understand politics and government and social issues and the economy,” she said. “So I actually bring quite a bit of experience even though I’m not a politician.”